I liken them as the unsung heroes of a hotel or resort. Cleanliness is a facet of a guest’s stay that, when done properly, goes unnoticed, and when neglected, becomes a rally point for scorn in an online review site of choice. Overlook your housekeeping at your own risk!
Victor Aburto is the Director of Housekeeping at Montage Beverly Hills (www.montagebeverlyhills.com), a five-diamond property in the heart of Los Angeles. Victor has a passion for housekeeping and that’s why I sought him out for an interview after my stay at his luxurious and impeccably clean hotel.
Tell me a little bit about your background and your career.
Having started at the Ritz-Carlton, Cancun, I held the Overnight Front Desk and Overnight Manager positions for just a short time before finding my groove in the Housekeeping department. It was there I was awarded the Leader of the Quarter and Leader of the Year. I then continued with the Ritz-Carlton in Orlando, Bachelor Gulch, Washington D.C. and Laguna Niguel. In total, over 18 years experience in the industry.
What are the broad changes you’ve seen in your 18 years of housekeeping experience?
It hasn’t changed that much, although it’s importance is definitely recognized much more today. I feel General Managers today are now more supportive and appreciative of their housekeeping teams. They see the value of the role housekeeping plays to the core product.
When interviewing a prospective housekeeper, how can you discern if they are ‘right’ for the job?
I look for the right fit based on their skills, knowledge and talents. I also place high importance on the person’s attitude. The job is straightforward and anyone can do it or learn it. But we can’t teach someone to smile. We can’t teach someone to want to serve. You can’t teach personality. What we can do is hire people who have those qualities and we can teach them about our culture.
How do you keep up with ecological requirements, and yet, remain able to ensure sanitary and cleanliness standards?
At Montage Beverly Hills, we have an ‘Environmental Impact Committee’ and our goal is to be aligned with the ecological requirements of running a Gold LEED certified hotel. Our focus is to improve and do better practices in all aspects of our operation; save energy, recycle, use biodegradable chemicals for laundry and housekeeping, and use eco-friendly paper to print everything in the hotel.
I’m sure you work in two languages. How do you train staff under these circumstances?
Our primary language is English and we translate as needed for our Associates in Spanish. The way I see it, any language barrier is not an excuse to provide an exceptional service.
How do you reward housekeeping staff for exceptional service? For average service?
We have a recognition program which allows us to recognize our Associates with ‘Magic Cards’, which are a simple way to say thank you to our Associates for their support and hard work. We also award several Associates per quarter as ‘Montage Masters’. This award recognizes an Associates performance, attitude and exceptional contribution on a day-to-day basis. A Montage Master should reflect the highest standards, images and ideals of the Montage brand, based in our established company values.
With cleanliness as such a critical component to guest happiness, how do you make sure everything reaches Montage-level perfection?
I can say that we not only make the guest feel happy, but feel safe as well. One of the key drivers for guest engagement is that our environment is stunningly clean, which implies safety. It becomes very difficult for our guests to focus on the experience if it does not feel and look clean. Cleanliness is an unspoken expectation, which may not create a memorable experience, but the absence of it can definitely take away from that same experience. Wonderful new bed linens with stains in them, or expensive marble, crystal and chandeliers that aren’t clean and well maintained will severely disappoint our guests. We stress that this is fundamental to everything else we do.
How do housekeeping staff help manage the ever-vacillating, individualized requirements of Hollywood glitterati?
The rooms division has two meetings every day. We review all guest arrivals and we filter all specific requests to make sure that they are properly handled. If a guest has a new request, we change his or her profile in our system to ensure that the next time he or she is with us, we know exactly what’s needed in advance.
Do you give housekeepers and their families an opportunity to stay on property for a night or two?
Yes. We have a family rate discount to give our Associates the opportunity to experience our properties. This is based on availability and approval from the General Manager.
Do customers at Montage Beverly Hills tip their executive housekeepers?
No. Occasionally we receive some tips from large groups, which we pass on directly to our Associates.
How do you manage costs in escalating, pressured-for-profits conditions?
We focus on our refining our efficiencies, maximizing our time and constantly considering new processes and procedures. We pay close attention to our daily operations costs and labor based on our productivity, but always without affecting the quality of our service.
How has automation and computerization become part of your routine?
I see them as important tools to support our daily work, but in our department we have to be out in the field checking hotel areas and guest rooms. I wish we could clean rooms with the click of a button, but this is not possible and would take all the fun out of it!
How do you provide excellence, everyday 24/7? What standards have been established?
My favorite value is integrity. We are in the winning business; everybody wants to be part of this winning game. The ticket to get in this game is integrity, and your guide to win this game is your mission statement. Everything that we do stems from there.
(Article published in HOTELSmag on November 2, 2012)